NEW YORK (August 4, 2009) – WCS scientists studying shorebirds in western Arctic Alaska recently made a
serendipitous discovery when they spotted a bar-tailed godwit with a small
orange flag and aluminum band harmlessly attached to its legs. Further
research revealed that scientists in Australia had banded the bird and attached
the flag near Victoria – more than 8,000 miles away.
banded birds are sometimes seen in the area where they were originally
released, it is very rare to see them so far from a release site.
observation was made by WCS biologists Dr. Steve Zack and Joe Liebezeit.
extremely unusual to find a banded bird that has flown literally thousands of
miles from where it was released,” said Steve Zack. “While we
know that birds from all over the world come to the Arctic to breed, to see a
living example first hand is a powerful reminder of the importance of this
and Liebezeit also sighted a banded dunlin and semipalmated sandpiper both of
which were originally marked and released by WCS scientists three years ago in nearby
Prudhoe Bay, Alaska for a study testing to see if birds that winter in Asia are
carrying highly pathogenic H5N1 Avian Influenza to North America. Semipalmated sandpipers migrate from South America, and dunlins migrate from
Asia. So far, shorebirds have not been detected to carry H5N1 into North
sightings represent direct examples of the importance of Arctic Alaska as an
international gathering place for migratory birds,” said Jodi Hilty,
Director of WCS’s North America Programs.
from every continent and every ocean come to Arctic Alaska to breed during the
short summer,” said Zack. “The immense wetlands of western
Arctic Alaska, encompassed almost entirely by the National Petroleum Reserve,
are particularly important to migratory birds and worth conserving.”
and Liebezeit have been conducting studies of breeding birds in the Arctic
since 2002 for WCS.
“We have worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, governmental
agencies in the Republic of Korea, and with WCS Global Health staff in
capturing shorebirds in Arctic Alaska and in the Republic of Korea to test for
the presence of avian flu” said Liebezeit. “It was exciting
to see birds we captured three years ago again in the Arctic.
Knowing that they have made six long flights back and forth during that time
really makes you appreciate their incredible life history.”
Migratory shorebirds of many species are in decline. Both climate change
and expanding energy development are affecting these birds, as are habitat loss
and other changes to their wintering wetland habitats around the world. The Wildlife Conservation Society is working to understand how best to conserve
these international migrants in changing times. There is also a need
to create more protection of key wildlife areas in advance of oil development
in the National Petroleum Reserve and a need for funding to help highlight and
understand those areas.
like bar-tailed godwits from Australia, dunlin from Asia, and semipalmated
sandpipers from South America are affected by different threats in their
wintering and summering grounds,” says Zack. “The
conservation of this highly migratory group of birds is truly a challenging
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